A World Beyond Imagining


Masset Haida village

There are a lot of people coming to the INL conference in Seattle. So many, in fact, that it is sold out. Because the conference is being held in Seattle, the focus, of course, will be on the Icelandic American community. However, in the late 1800s, people moved quite freely between Canada and the USA, sometimes moving from Victoria to Seattle, then moving back. A lot of people of Icelandic descent in Washington State are from families that travelled across Canada by train, stayed in BC for a while, particularly in Vancouver and Victoria, then moved to Point Roberts and Boundary Bay. The historic ties are strong.



In the book Memories of Osland there are numerous stories of that emigration from Iceland to Winnipeg, from Winnipeg to the West Coast of Canada and then from there to points south. All you have to do is read a few biographies to realize just how Icelandic a small community like Osland was.

Johan Phillipson in Excerpts from “Grandfather’s Story of the Philippson Family” says, “My parents were living in a small and isolated Canadian-Icelandic community called OSLAND which was located on Smith Island at the mouth of the Skeena River. I was born at the nearest hospital in Prince Rupert on April 2, 1916.”

In the article, “The Family of Kristjan & Sigridur Einarsson”, the author says “Kristjan Einarsson was born in 1873 in Iceland. In 1910 he came to Canada and followed the carpentry trade in Winnipeg until he moved west to Masset on the Queen Charlotte Islands around 1912. There he married Sigridur Olafson, widow of Hallvardur Olafson.

“Sigridur was born in 1875 in Iceland. She married Hallvardur Olafson in 1902. In 1910 Hallvardur went to Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada with their children – Olafur, Thorhildur, and Swanhvit. The family moved to Masset in 1912. Hallvardur had been in failing health for a year and in 1914 he passed away.

Kristjan and Sigridur moved to Osland in 1915. Land there was promoted by Thorsteinn Davidson, and Einarssons, and other Icelandic families bought land and built their homes there. Kristjan worked as a carpenter during the winter and fished for salmon in the summer months. He was a very good carpenter and made the windows and doors for almost every house in the settlement. He loved good books and over his long lifetime accumulated a large library of Icelandic books.”

How could any story be more Icelandic than that?

Born in Iceland, immigrating to Canada, stopping in Winnipeg, suffering a death in the family, remarrying inside the Icelandic community. Amazing that there was enough Icelandic community that Icelanders were able to marry Icelanders. And, they stayed within an Icelandic community on an island in the mouth of the Skeena river.

This was a world beyond imagining.

Had you ever heard of these people, these Icelandic individuals who had travelled across Canada and founded a community on a small island where they adapted to life in British Columbia? They raised goats and gardens, fished for salmon, worked in canneries, found jobs in Prince Rupert, endured the rain (at least it was West Coast rain on a green world and not driving horizontal rain that kept crops from growing), learned to log, built houses from wood and brought up families.

What a heroic journey this was. What strong people. What determination was required. What costs they paid. Graves attest to that.

And there, in the green world, in the world of towering trees, it says of Kristjan “He loved good books and over his long lifetime accumulated a large library of Icelandic books.”